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Uranium ore shipments anti-nuclear breach, say Greens

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Russel Norman
Russel Norman

Wellington, June 24 NZPA - The shipment of uranium ore through New Zealand waters is a serious breach of the anti-nuclear policy, Green Party co-leader Russel Norman says.

The party highlighted the issue on Monday and since then the Government has confirmed the ore is regularly shipped through New Zealand ports.

The ore, known as yellowcake, is destined for nuclear industries in the United States and Europe.

Shipments have been passing through New Zealand's nuclear-free ports for 20 years.

"I think it's a serious breach of our nuclear-free policy because we actually are helping the Americans with their uranium industry and helping the Australians, so I think that we need to have a look at it because we all assumed we were nuclear-free," Dr Norman said.

"It's particularly worrying that the Government even, previously, didn't seem to be aware of it when clearly bringing uranium through New Zealand on a regular basis goes against our nuclear-free policy."

Dr Norman said an investigation was needed to find out exactly what was going on.

Environment Minister Nick Smith said a rational view should be taken.

"This is yellowcake, which is not much more than Australian dirt," he said.

"It remains in containers, on ship. It poses no risk to the public health of New Zealanders."

Yellowcake is mined in the Australian outback and is an early stage in the production of nuclear material.

Shipments pass through ports at Nelson, Napier, Tauranga and Auckland.

Dr Smith said the shipments got proper approval through the Environmental Risk Management Authority (Erma).

"But I think it's quite important people keep the level of risk in perspective. This yellowcake has very low levels of radioactivity. If you stood right beside it for about a week, right by one of the drums, you'd get about a similar level of radiation as you would get naturally from the environment over about a year."

He said the stuff would need to be eaten to cause harm.

Australia had given assurances the material was only being used for peaceful, non-military purposes.

"And whether those shipments be annually as they have been for 30 years or monthly or weekly there is no significant risk to public health or the environment and so I'm not concerned."

Labour leader Phil Goff, foreign minister in the previous government, said he had not known about the shipments but wasn't concerned because he was confident it was used for peaceful purposes like fuel for nuclear power plants.

Prime Minister John Key said when he first became prime minister he was surprised to find uranium shipments were going through New Zealand's waters.

He said he asked the "obvious question" -- what are the environmental risks?

"The answer was they're very very very low risk, it's not enriched uranium."

Australia requested for the uranium to be 'trans-shipped', which would allow it to be taken off the boat, but the Government rejected that.

Mr Key said the practice was going on before the term of the previous Labour government.

The shipments were at such a low level Mr Key was not required to approve them.

Mr Key said it did not make a mockery of New Zealand's nuclear-free postion because it was not enriched uranium.

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